Dear MCS Community,
Presidential elections always attract the interest of the Manhattan Country School community, particularly our inquisitive, socially conscious students and faculty. Our history and our mission provide a context for elections. Our curriculum and ways of teaching shape children’s growing understanding of how democracy works when equity and diversity, justice and peace are part of the conversation. Developing a strong voice is a special focus at MCS, as is youthful enthusiasm for one’s ability to make change. These last eight years, members of Congress, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have heard from MCS students advocating for recognition of Indigenous Day, reducing the school-to-prison pipeline and speaking out against bias in the form of racism, gender discrimination, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The 2016 presidential campaign piqued our interest about language and ways of treating one another. It's been hard to answer all the questions. And it’s been striking how many times name-calling, teasing and other transgressions were reflected in behaviors kids have seen in coverage of the campaigns, as Mexican immigrants and Muslims were targeted, African-American communities were stereotyped, journalists were threatened, and public officials’ trustworthiness was called into question. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, Parents’ Visiting Day and Election Day, I witnessed the excitement of kids, many who were wearing “I Voted” stickers they received when they accompanied their grownups to the polls. The provocative message "Should kids have the right to vote?" was the morning message in the 5-6s. A makeshift voting booth gave students opportunities to experience voting in their classrooms. Older students were aware of divisions within political parties and the emergence of third-party candidates. Some religiously tracked polls and knew the predictions favored a victory by Hillary Clinton, who would become the first woman president if elected. Alumni Facebook pages were brimming with messages about first-ever ballots cast by members of the MCS class of 2012.
Many in the MCS community stayed up late awaiting the election results. News of the unpredicted outcome that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States affected the mood Wednesday morning on the sidewalk and in classrooms. Through early morning emails we were able to share an article with suggestions of ways to talk to children and take up the next chapter of our work. We want to reassure our children that our job is to keep them safe, and that we are here to answer their questions. Reinforcing the values that families hold and that we hold as the MCS community will help children feel safe as well. Teachers found age-appropriate and meaningful ways to do that with their groups. Our Librarian Jay Fung gathered a few books on relevant themes. MCS Farm Director John McDaniel sent a YouTube video link to staff of Maya Angelou reading "And Still I Rise."
After checking in with teachers, Mary Trowbridge, Maiya Jackson and I met with Susan Harris, our Lower School music teacher, to design a short assembly for the end of the day. Our first in the new gym, we reflected on what the 2016 election made us appreciate about Gus and Marty Trowbridge's aims in starting MCS. These two quotes illustrate the influence Martin Luther King, Jr. had on them.
“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."
We sang two familiar songs from the MCS assembly repertoire. "Siyahamba," a South African freedom song, and "We Shall Overcome," with some familiar and new verses. "We are not afraid." "We shall live in peace." "Black and white together." "Gay and straight together." "Immigrants and citizens together." "Nosotros venceremos." "We shall overcome today." Our community is strong, diverse, respectful, caring and committed.
Some staff came together to debrief after school. One of the many emails I received from parents was helpful to share with them. "Coming to MCS, being able to tell the girls that we have a community of warmth, support, strength that will help us not let us despair and that will help us find a way forward that is positive and filled with voice and activism was uplifting and so important. Thank you for everything you do to make this world a better place."
Times like these make clear the value of a multiracial, multifaith, economically diverse community like ours. Sustaining this type of community becomes an act of commitment to the challenging multi-faceted task of making this world a better place for us all. Our pre- and post-election aspirations are for a school, a country and a world our Lower School Movement Teacher Jermaine Lloyd, inspired by John F. Kennedy, describes as “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”